This is a popular destination in mountainous Georgia known, first of all, for its towers . If you want to see a real high-mountainous settlement and real mountain roads, then you should spend a day on this. This road is different from, let’s say, from Zugdidi to Mestia. This will be a deeper dive.
Ushguli itself is small, you can walk around it in a couple of hours and even have time to climb the old stone towers. Here you can ride horses in the mountains and go to the glacier even in summer. Those who want to see mountain landscapes should visit Ushguli.
Ushguli is 2200 meters above sea level. It is located at the foot of Shkhara mountain which is 5193 meters. Even in the hottest period of summer, the summit of Shkhara is covered with snow and usually hides behind clouds.
We can say - the quintessence of Svaneti. Maybe this is not a completely correct statement, because Georgia is diverse and each of its regions is colorful and unique in its own way, but there is widespread opinion: "Who has not seen Svaneti has not seen Georgia."
History of Ushguli
The oldest dwellings date back to the 9th century, but, according to archaeological evidence, settlements existed here much earlier. The uniqueness of the high-mountainous community and the preserved original architectural monuments gave rise to the inclusion of this area in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. During the reign of Queen Tamara, her summer residence was located here.
For a long time, this region was geographically cut off from the rest of the territory of the Georgian state, therefore, specific traditions and customs have been preserved. The local population is Svans (according to various estimates, there are from 15 to 30 thousand). They have their own language and are different in appearance. Consider themselves a separate ethnic group and this is a fact. And although they all know Georgian, in everyday life they continue to communicate in their native language and honor their traditions.
There are a lot of traditional and patriarchal things in this land. But globalization is steadily penetrating even here, where no enemy has stepped.
As an example of extremes that have come down to our time, this law of blood revenge (lisvri) has survived to this day, of course, in a "smoothed" state, but rare incidents occur even now. And in some periods of history, blood feud drained Svaneti even more than external threats.
A curious case on this topic. Residents of Ushguli heard that a mighty prince from the Dadeshkeliani clan was going to take control of their village. Then the residents invited him themselves. They seated him at the head of a long table, in the place where the gun tied under the table was directed. A string was tied to the trigger, stretching to the other end of the table. When the prince sat down in a place of honor. The villagers, who could hold this rope under the table, together pulled the trigger and sent the prince to his ancestors. According to custom, the family of the murdered had to take revenge on the murderer and “withdraw” the blood of the murderer or a member of his family. But taking revenge on the entire village was not an option.
One of the versions of modern historians about the purpose of thousands of towers is for the purpose of protection in such cases. But to believe in it is as hard as to believe in reality from TV.
Climate and weather in Ushguli
Continental, humid. Since the settlements are located high in the mountains, winters are long, cold and harsh. Summers are short and warm, sometimes hot. The Caucasian ridge protects from cold north winds, the snow melts here faster and spring comes earlier. The average annual temperature is about +6 degrees: in winter –6, in the middle of summer +16. It is hot only in summer, and then in the sun, at night the temperature drops below +10 C. In winter, roads to distant villages are swept up for several months.
How to get to Ushguli?
The easiest way to get to Ushguli from Mestia is by minibus, which periodically goes with groups of tourists for about $ 10 per person. Or rent an SUV with a driver if you are your own company. The road from Mestia to Ushguli is about 45 kilometers away and takes about three hours.
To Ushguli by your car
If you decide to go by car i.e. get behind the wheel yourself, then you definitely need to understand that:
- You are a confident driver with experience and have been on mountain roads.
- You are in an SUV with high ground clearance and good tires.
- You don't ride in the rain or immediately after heavy rain
Where to stay in Ushguli?
In high-mountain villages, you can spend the night or few in family houses, which are arranged like family hotels. Often these are several fairly comfortable rooms with a shared kitchen and bathroom. The price starts from about $ 12 per person. They offer breakfast or three meals a day for an extra charge of ~ $10-15. Here, as in all of Svaneti, it is better to rent guesthouses with meals included. You can also set up your own tent on the territory of the guesthouse, as a rule, they will charge about 10 GEL per tent. It turns out the type of camping and means the use of bathrooms and a kitchen. But it can be pretty cool in the tent, in the mountains the temperature drops noticeably at night.
What to see in Ushguli
Each of the four villages has its own monuments.
- In Zhibiani you can see the original twin tower. On a separate hill, a little further away, there is the temple of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lamaria), painted with frescoes of the X-XII centuries with scenes from the legends about Amirani, the hero of the Georgian epic. The temple and the adjacent tower are surrounded by a wall. This whole structure resembles a castle. Not far from Lamaria is the church of St. George, known as Jgrag. Its beautiful carved door deserves special attention. There are also two private museums (where you can see interesting icons and ethnographic exhibits).
- Chvibiani can be called the center of the community: there is a temple, several towers, a museum, and several guest houses where you can stay for the night.
- A peculiar village-museum of Chazhashi and two castles. Nizhny is located on a small hill. In one of its towers, there is a memorial in honor of the four residents of the village who fought in the Great Patriotic War. Higher up the slope - Upper. The Svans believe that this is the summer residence of Queen Tamara, and they are sure that this is where she was buried. The local towers are a bit different from the typical Svan ones.
- In Murkmeli, the fourth village of the community, there are two churches (Spassky and St. Barbara) and a dozen towers.
- Glacier on the southern slope of Shkhara. The main source of the most beautiful Inguri begins here. If you climb to the Upper Chazhash Castle (about 200 meters), despite a rather tedious climb, given the thin air, the views of the Ushguli Valley, Shkhara and other surrounding mountains that open from there will make you forget about fatigue.
- Magnificent views can also be observed while sitting in the "Cats" cafe in Chvibiani.
Excursions to Ushguli
- In the village of Khe (Kala community), 6 kilometers away, there is one of the most revered local churches, the famous Lagurka. Temple of Saints Kvirike and Iulita, dating back to the 11th century. Below it is a typical fortified house. The village is located in an avalanche-prone area, there is only one family left to live here.
- Near the village of Bogreshi (Ipari community) there is a lonely Tower of Love. This is what the local population calls her and attributes a romantic legend about a girl whose lover died. At her request, her father built her a separate tower, where she lived alone until the end of her life.
- You can go to the Laptarsky pass.
- A popular route to the Shkhara glacier (for one day)
- It is worth walking a four-kilometer stretch of road through a beautiful canyon towards Mestia.
- A popular three-day hiking route from Zhabeshi (Mulakhi community) to Ushguli, you can start from Mestia.
- You can rent horses from locals and ride all the routes at once. For renting a horse, you will pay ~ $ 15-20 per horse per person for 4-6 hours.
Perhaps the majority will find Svan cuisine simpler than in other regions of Georgia. This can be explained by the ascetic life of the Svans caused by the climate. But national dishes are tasty and interesting.
We recommend trying “Kubdari” which is closed flatbread with meat and spices.In the original also with hemp )) but you won't find that anymore. “Chvishtari” (or chvizhdari) is a corn flatbread with suluguni (Georgian cheese). “Mertsli” -potatoes with suluguni cheese. “Zishhoru” - pork sausage Svan honey is famous for its useful qualities. Svan salt is considered a legendary product. The recipe is passed down from generation to generation through the female line, a special tradition of grinding salt with spices growing in these places (at least 8 ingredients).
- The best option for a trip is to team up with three or more and rent a jeep with a driver who knows the local roads well.
- As elsewhere in the mountains, do not forget about warm clothes (even in summer) and comfortable shoes.
- With alcohol it is better to be careful at the height. It works differently.
- It is also worth considering basic safety measures. And common sense especially useful in the mountains)
- It is necessary to understand that the Svans are special people: they are friendly, but restrained and rather closed; You will be hospitably received, fed, but feasts and fun, as in other regions of Georgia, are not worth waiting for.